July 20, 2007
From South to North and West to East
Greetings in the sweet name of Jesus who walked on this same land that we have the privilege of walking all these four weeks! Since we blogged with you last, we had traveled in all four directions of the Holy Land. We saw some of the delightful sights of Israel and Palestine and met some wonderful people who live in joy and hope and despair and disappointment, but always extend hospitality.
South – Four House Calls.
Bethlehem ( House of bread in Hebrew and House of Meat in Arabic) On Saturday we went to Bethlehem, which is 6 miles south of Jerusalem. We went through Israeli check -point, in the middle of the security Wall. Going out of Jerusalem is no problem. We just walked through waving our American Passport to the guards there. Our friend Abdullah met us in his BMW sedan and gave us a tour. We had written about Abdullah Awaad and his wife Noha who live in the nearby village, Beit Sahour. Beit is house. Sahour in Aramaic means Awakening as in Waking up of the shepherds by the angels. In Arabic it means magic or miracle indicating the same event.
Abdullah took us to “Al Basma” center, meaning the House of Smiles. Abdullah manages a special education (developmentally challenged ) youth home. It is organized by the Arab Women’s Union. There are about 30 children who were doing crafts, making recycled hand made paper and olive wood Christmas ornaments. They were all smiling and wanted to be photographed. They come from very poor families and are happy to have one meal at this institution. Since the institution does not have much money, they are able to provide just one item for the noon meal - Rice or bread or Porridge. They don't get vegetables or meat at all. We were moved to give the manager money to buy some meat and give it to them for the next meal. How fortunate we are – where we are - to be able to afford so much variety in our food. We also bought some souvenirs from them.
Our next stop was the Shepherd Fields church. There is a big cave there and Abdullah explained that the shepherds probably took all the sheep there and put them inside for the night. It seems the shepherds usually slept by the cave entrance to protect the sheep from wild animals. Now I can understand why Jesus called himself ‘ the Good shepherd’. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ” John 10: 3. He gave his life for us to save and protect us.
Then Abdullah took us to his beautiful three storey stone house surrounded by Olive, Avocado, pomegranate, apple, apricot, walnut and other trees and grape vines that make a welcome arch loaded with green and blue grapes. It was like the Garden of Eden. We tasted the home- made wine, pomegranate juice and apple cake. Fantastic.
Next we visited a house of a Muslim family of Waleed Issa. (Issa in Arabic means Jesus. So, the house of Jesus.) The Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet and honor him by naming their children after him. We met Waleed, a student in Minnesota last spring. He returns to Bethlehem his hometown every summer and brings a team of Palestinian Muslim and Christian students to US for a tour. They sing and dance at different places in U.S. this time in Minnesota. Waleed was born in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. By sheer hard work, his father made money and got out of the refugee camp. He has his own house; business and all his children are educated. He has 9 children. Waleed’s brother Dr. Mohammed works with John at the hospital. We had a typical Palestinian meal of rice with carrots and peas with ground beef on top called 'Mansif', lentil soup, salad, yogurt etc. We had watermelons and plums for dessert. Of course tea with mint leaves and finally Turkish coffee. They were very hospitable and appreciated us for coming to visit them. I held one of their grand daughters in my hand for a while and she reminded me of Hannah as a little baby.
Waleed took us to visit a huge church, which many tourists miss. But we were glad we went there. It was by a lush mountainside, near a natural spring and so it was fertile land. A Bishop from Uruguay built the magnificent church and the churches from Argentina also helped. They think since this is very close to Jerusalem and has fine gardens, this could be the place King Solomon (David's son) had his royal gardens. In the Old Testament in ' Song of Solomon." the writer, talks about coming to a beautiful garden. Some believe that his area inspired the book. “Awake north wind and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, there its fragrance may spread abroad.” Song of Solomon 4:16. So the nuns here keep the place very beautiful with fragrant flowers, herbs and vegetable garden. They also have a Preschool. We found two nuns from Kerala, India which is the State Sandhya is from.
North. Scenic tour
On Sunday we went with Augusta Victoria Hospital staff on a day trip in the Tour bus. Many hospital employees with children came on the tour. Our first stopover was a mountainous Botanical garden maintained by the Baron von Rothschild foundation. He was one of the first Jewish immigrants to Israel in early 1900s who bought this mountain and other lands here and encouraged other Jews to come here and settle also. He is known as the “ The father of Settlements” He is buried here with his wife. There are many hiking trails down the mountain. The flower gardens and variety of trees grown here, are spectacular. There is even a variety of fragrant red rose named after the Baron. We enjoyed picnic lunch in the gardens.
The next stop, Mount Carmel had a big Bahai temple. It is a religion that started in Iran and combines all the faiths. There is a Baha’ai temple in Winnetka, IL. near Evanston. It is beautiful like Taj Mahal with the same type of architectural style. Mount Carmel is where Prophet Elijah had the show down with false prophets of Baal and Asheroth. An ice cream truck showed up there. John treated the family of the Operating room technician who had five children to ice cream bars. They could not afford to buy the ice cream which were 10 shekels each (2 1/2 dollars). They were so happy and said "Shukron" which is ' Thanks’ in Arabic. It is truly blessed to give than to receive
The town of Haifa, which is on the Mediterranean Sea coast, was our next stop. Our friend Dr. Lotan, ENT surgeon in DeKalb is from Haifa. John with many others in the group swam in the Mediterranean Sea and had fun. The swim in the Mediterranean Sea was great. The water was warm. The waves were just right, not too rough. Some kids were even surfing! We also visited Joppa from where Jonah sailed to Nineveh. There is a big statue of a whale there! We had dinner at an outdoor cafe there with hot dogs and omelet sandwich. The hot dogs were OK, but not like the Chicago ballpark variety.
West: The Jewish Experience.
John being a Rotarian, we attended Rotary meetings, which opened up opportunities for us to meet Jewish people from the west side of Jerusalem. Many that came to Rotary, have lived in the U.S. and then moved to Israel. We attended two Rotary meetings one of which was a gala dinner welcoming the incoming new President of Rotary. They were very welcoming of us. We were seated at the past President’s table. They all seemed very well off, well traveled and sophisticated. A gracious lady sitting next to me, Bernice Rosenberg, invited us for tea at her lovely home a few days later. Bernice had lived in South Africa and England. She and her husband established a foundation to help people in the Republic South Africa. They brought an Indian Muslim lady doctor from RSA to specialize in Geriatrics in Israel last year.
On Monday when we showed up at her house for tea, there was a group of friends to meet us. The tea was more than high tea – cakes, breads, dips, fruits, drinks and what not. She has a maid that helps her five times a week. Bernice is a great artist and has decorated her apartment with several of her paintings, watercolor, oil on canvas and a few sculptures by her daughter. There was also another artist among the guests who has had many shows. Mark Zober, the Rotary President’s husband talked about helping raise money for the Darfur refugees in Israel now, who have arrived here from Egypt. Mark and his wife took us shopping at the Supermarket and Asian market.
There are many Jewish/ Israeli Peace groups who are trying to be compassionate and just to the Palestinians.
“ Women in black” is one such a group, which protests Israeli occupation in illegal places in Palestine. They stand in silent protest wearing black, in the town square on Fridays with placards! Then there are Rabbis against violence, who try to do their part also. Nowadays they are replacing Palestinian house workers by bringing guest workers from Philippines, Sri Lanka etc. We saw a lady in wheel chair in a park with a Philippino helper. The West side is definitely looks more prosperous and cleaner.
East: Palestinian Jerusalem
East side of Jerusalem is where Muslims live and the call to prayer ring loud and clear every day five times a day. The Lutheran World Federation guesthouse in the Augusta Victoria Hospital campus is truly a global village. Today we met volunteers from Norway, England and Canada. The girl from Norway has worked in a refugee camp in Lebanon and has now come here to help out. The manager/ custodian is Ebrahim, a local Muslim man. He is hard working; He gets here, taking two buses, at 6 AM with breakfast. He has a big family and some times his sons come here to help him mop the floor, change beds etc. Esther taught the sons to play checkers.
We are situated in the Mount of Olives with a German Ascension church in our campus. There is also another Mount of Olives with a Russian Ascension church. Our Indian friends live there. That area is generally believed to be Bethphage from where Jesus started his Palm Sunday donkey trip.
We took a bus trip to Bethany – Al Azarieh as it is now called. Al Azarieh is the Arabic name for Lazarus. It is just on the other side of Bethphage, 1 mile away, but because of the Israeli security wall, it is a 45 mts. bus trip. We ventured into the village of Bethany without a guide and managed to spot the Catholic Church of Mary and Martha. Three beautiful paintings adorn the church. The center mosaic is one of Lazarus coming out of the tomb at Jesus’ command. How thrilling it must have been to be in the crowd that day! Another mosaic shows Jesus with Mary at his feet and Martha preparing the food. Many of these churches are built over Byzantine churches and Crusader churches and so they save some of the ruins and display them. We then walked over to what is believed to be the oldest house in Bethany, which was half cave, and half stone house. Some say that it is the house of the Lazarus and his sisters!
Next-door was Lazarus’ tomb. We went down some slippery steps to a dark cave with many crypts. The guide we hired, took fifteen shekels from us and explained that an archway down below was the street level in Jesus’ time. If you went down still further there is another cave, where Lazarus probably was laid. As we came out, we saw more ruins, which the guide pointed out, was once the house of Simon the leper who entertained Jesus. It was where Mary brought out the expensive ointment and washed his feet. Many holy sights are in Christian hands but some are in Muslim hands, maintained by them. This was one of those.
East or west, north or south, God Immanuel was always with us. May that be your experience too. Thanks for your faithfulness in praying for us. We leave here on 25th and arrive in US the same day.
Love and Best wishes.
John Prabhu and Esther Kamali